Team Figure Skating a Great Unknown at 2014 Winter Olympics

Diane Pucin@@mepucinOlympics Lead WriterFebruary 5, 2014

Figure skaters, from the left, Peggy Fleming, Gracie Gold, Dorothy Hamill, Polina Edmunds, Scott Hamilton, Brian Boitano, Ashley Wagner, and Kristi Yamaguchi, stand together following the U.S. Figure Skating Championships Sunday, Jan. 12, 2014 in Boston. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
Steven Senne/Associated Press

Do the Winter Olympics really need another figure skating event?

The Games already have men's and women's singles, pairs and ice dancing. That's a pretty full program of doing tricks on the ice.

But the Russians, as hosts, get to pick some sports of their own. Not surprisingly, they chose team figure skating, expecting, certainly, to win another medal.

How does team figure skating work?

Well, each of the singles, pairs and ice dancers perform a routine and get a score. The team with the highest overall score gets the gold; second highest, the silver; third highest, the bronze.

Guess who the gold-medal favorites are? 

Yes, that would be the Russians. 

"I guess as much figure skating as we can get in the Olympics is good for us," said U.S. singles skater Ashley Wagner, but she didn't say it with the enthusiasm one would expect of someone who might win a medal because of it.

Ashley Wagner
Ashley WagnerIvan Sekretarev/Associated Press

Wagner told reporters in Sochi that it would be "a little weird" to cheer for American teammate Gracie Gold one day and against her when the two face off in the individual competition.

Team figure skating will make its Olympic debut Thursday, and an NBC spokesman said he expects it to be a television-friendly event, another reason the Russians chose it as their sport to add.

In fact, it will take place a day before the opening ceremony even begins. Ten countries, including the United States and Russia, will compete, and there will be short and long programs just as if it was a singles competition.

As one considers team figure skating, the mind wanders back to 1994better known as the Tonya-Nancy Olympics. It's hard to imagine Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan skating to help each other win a medal after one (Harding) tried to knee-whack her top competition (Kerrigan) right out of the Olympics.

Charlie White and Meryl Davis
Charlie White and Meryl DavisBizuayehu Tesfaye/Associated Press/Associated Press

American ice dancer Charlie White, who, with his partner Meryl Davis, could pick up two medals since the duo is favored to win a medal of some color in ice dancing, told Sochi reporters that other athletes are getting jealous of the skaters.

"They're trying to make up extra sports they could do so they could win more medals," White said.

"It's a little weird. We grew up with one way, only having the single chance to win a medal while in some of the other sports like speed skating and skiing you can win a bunch, but that's what we grew up with, and that's what has made figure skating so special, I think anyway. But that doesn't matter, I guess. If I win two medals, I'm not going to leave one behind," White said.

The U.S., which is considered a bronze-medal favorite, will need big scores from White and Davis to win a medal, and perhaps the key will be how the men perform.

"There's a lot of strategy," Wagner told reporters in Sochi.

"The men are going to have to do a short program in singles four days after the free skate for the team," Wagner said. "That's not going to be easy."

For example, if Wagner were to be brilliant in her short program for the team competition and the individual short program isn't until Feb. 19, things could change. She could lose her momentum. "I've thought about that," Wagner said in Sochi.

"I have to take that out of my mind."

The top five countries will advance to the free skate after the short programs. The women's and ice dance short programs and the pairs free skate will be Saturday, with the rest of the team competition on Sunday.

Wagner and White both said they would be cheering for their American teammates early and for themselves later. What a tightrope to walk. Thanks to the Russians.

Unless otherwise noted all quotes via NBC Live Extra online news conferences.

Diane Pucin is the Olympics lead writer for Bleacher Report. She covered four Winter Games for the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Los Angeles Times. You can follow her on Twitter @mepucin.